20 Years Later, ‘American Pie’ Characters Leave a Bitter Aftertaste
Twenty years after its release, American Pie is still regarded as a great comedy. The film – which became a sleeper hit in 1999 and spawned a franchise that somehow has seven sequels – follows four teenage boys as they make a sex pact in an attempt to lose their virginity before graduating high school. Except for postmodern teen sex comedies like Superbad, American Pie is arguably the last great ultra-raunchy teen sex comedy – or so we thought.
While the movie is undoubtedly still funny in certain respects and surprisingly heartfelt in others, it turns out that it’s also super outdated and problematic in the way that it depicts the treatment of women and teen sex. It’s probably not fair to call American Pie sexist, but it certainly displays misogynistic tendencies. In essence, it’s the type of movie that would never get made today. Especially in retrospect, most of the characters in the film are bad people who make terrible decisions. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of American Pie, let’s look back on how its characters are (mostly) awful people.
Cover Photo: Universal Pictures
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As the primary protagonist of American Pie, Jim Levenstein (Jason Biggs) is kind of a weirdo. He’s a slightly less terrible person than both Kevin Myers (Thomas Ian Nicholas) and Steve Stifler (Seann William Scott), which probably isn’t saying that much. Not only does Jim manipulate Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) to get her naked on the internet without her consent, but he also manipulates her into (almost) having sex. Despite still being an objectively funny scene, it also makes no sense whatsoever that a young woman he barely knows would randomly start masturbating on his bed. It’s essentially spy cam porn.
And then there’s the infamous pie scene. Much like his encounter with Nadia later in the film, Jim’s “exploration” of a warm apple pie is treated as another bump in the road of his sexual awakening. Fortunately, Jim becomes more redeemable by the conclusion of the film. Not only does Jim get his just desserts for being such a weirdo (even though this is somehow totally acceptable to the rest of the school), but also the fact that Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) uses Jim in the same way that he used Nadia is bittersweet.
Along with Stiffler, Kevin is arguably the shittiest person in the movie. He treats his girlfriend Vicky (Tara Reid) as an object of lust rather than a real person. It gets to the point that he “makes it up to her” by obtaining a sex book that will allow him to provide her with oral sex, which isn’t necessarily a good look for the movie nowadays. What makes this even creepier is that none other than Casey Affleck plays Kevin’s brother, which only adds a real-life layer of "ick" to this plot point.
The problematic nature of Kevin’s characterization can be best summed up in his big speech from the first act. “No longer will our penises remain flaccid and unused. We will fight for every man out there who isn’t getting laid and should be. This is our day. This is our time…we will not stand by and watch history condemn us into celibacy. We will make a stand. We will succeed. We will get laid!” Oh, God, is this secretly an Incel manifesto? No wonder American Pie hasn’t aged well. The lesson here seems to be that he put in "months of quality time" only to get his dick sucked.
There’s no doubt that Steve Stifler is the encapsulation of toxic masculinity throughout American Pie. At the same time, he’s still one of the film’s most entertaining characters because he represents that one asshole that everyone knew in high school. Despite what this movie would have you believe, Seann William Scott is actually a good actor (Goon is proof of this), so good that his role as the so-called "Stifmeister" pretty much shoehorned his entire career into playing Stifler-esque characters to this day (see: Lethal Weapon). Aside from Scott’s all-in comedic performance, the way that the character is written ultimately makes him a dated misogynist relic from a different time.
For a character whose first words are: “If there’s any channel that should be illegal, it’s that all-women’s channel,” it’s hard to find "Oz" redeemable. He’s essentially a misogynist wrapped in the shell of a puppy-dog sweetheart. The character’s motivations of joining the school choir simply to bang Heather (Mena Suvari) are dubious at best, especially with a line like: “How am I supposed to become this Mr. sensitive man?” American Pie is the type of movie that revolves around cheap gags, and yet Oz and Heather’s storyline is perhaps the most mature storyline in the film. It’s the type of storyline that, while often dipping into cliché and trope, manages to be kind of sweet. Chris Klein’s turn in American Pie is still decent, even if his performance in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li begs to differ.
Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is not only one of the least problematic male characters of the film, but Thomas’ performance is arguably the best of the core group. Although it’s heavily implied that Finch has at least attempted to pay for sex with a prostitute (as an underage kid nevertheless), the “Stifler’s mom” gag actually still plays pretty well. While he’s also complicit in the spy cam debacle, Finch is kind of a shitty friend. If he had slept with any of his friend’s parents other than Stifler’s mom, any average human would disown that friend. Ultimately, however, the fact that we hate Stifler so much only makes the fact that Finch sleeps with his mom one of the most rewarding payoffs in the movie. Even though he’s also a liar and manipulator, he also the least scumbag character in American Pie.
In retrospect, Natasha Lyonne's Jessica is one of the best aspects of American Pie. She may not have a huge role, but it’s also the one that holds up the best by modern standards. The best part of Jessica as a character is that she is essentially profiting off of Finch’s inability to get a date to prom. It’s really the only interesting subplot in the film, which is also ironic considering that Lyonne is the only teenage member of the cast actually to have a career.
Photo: Universal Pictures
Perhaps the most memorable performance in the movie comes from Eugene Levy as Jim’s dad, Noah. Not only is his dry line delivery the perfect counterpoint to American Pie’s raunchiness, but it also serves as the antidote to Jim’s terrible decisions throughout the film. The character of Noah grounds Jim in a real way, ultimately standing as the reason why he even works as a protagonist. Simply put, Levy’s delivery and timing is a masterstroke in a movie that mostly hasn’t aged well.
The funny thing about American Pie is that, despite being a cultural touchstone of the late ’90s and supposedly “launching” the careers of its cast, it simultaneously pigeonholed nearly every single one of them. Biggs will always be known as the guy who fucked the pie, Scott will always be associated with playing the asshole, and even Levy was typecast as the awkward, square dad character.
It’s a problematic movie by today’s standards, especially in terms of its depiction of women and the message that it sends to younger viewers. At the same time, American Pie is also slightly prophetic in the way that the film represents the end of an era and the beginning of a new one for the teen sex comedy. It’s as dated as ever, and it may not be a good movie, but it still manages to be a funny coming-of-age story in the most literal sense.